When Ronald Reagan entered the White House on January 20, 1981, the two most pressing items on his agenda were restoring noninflationary economic growth and rebuilding America's shattered defenses. Concerns over the American economic and military decline, which marred the Carter presidency, were the dominant issues determining the outcome of the 1980 presidential election. It is understandable that Reagan would devote top priority to the economy and defense, which, after all, were the issues most responsible for his election to the presidency. 1
However, presidents cannot completely control the national agenda. Issues of concern to members of Congress and the public often rise to the top of the national agenda, even if those problems are of lesser interest to the incumbent president. Presidents can set in motion processes, which elevate an issue of concern to them to the top of the national agenda, after they have left office. This was certainly the case with immigration.
Reagan was disinterested in immigration and did not intend to devote his attention to this issue when he entered the White House. However, as a result of processes set in motion by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, he soon found it impossible to ignore this issue. By the late 1970s, immigration had emerged as a top issue on the national agenda as a result of the unprecedented levels of immigration, both legal and illegal, which the Immigration Act of 1965 unleashed.
Since passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, the United States had maintained a highly restrictive immigration policy. The Immigration Act of 1965 substantially expanded and liberalized federal immigration law, resulting in a significant rise in levels of legal immigration, which was accompanied by a flood of illegal immigration to the United States. 2 While supporting the high